employee is a terrible singer, how to say “I’ll quit over this,” and more — Ask a Manager

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My employee is a terrible singer

I’ve been a solopreneur for years and in the last few months finally made the leap and hired past-time help. After interviewing a few people, I found someone whose work ethic, schedule, and expectations matched my own. She’s great — hard worker, fast learner, willing to jump in however she can, willing to make suggestions on how to improve productivity, and has a keen creative eye.

There are of course some different points of views and some corrections and adjustments that have been needed from both of us … But there’s one issue I’m unsure how to handle. Her singing is HORRENDOUS.

We aren’t client-facing, so I have no problem with her listening to the music she wants to while she’s working. Her choice of music is worship/praise music. I don’t mind one way or another if it helps her stay focused during monotonous jobs.

But she sings along and it’s SO shrill and off-key. I was willing to work around it and wear headphones and that worked fine for me, but now we are sharing the space with another artist/business. There’s no physical division of space (walls) so noise travels. The other artist doesn’t mind the music, but has complained about the singing to me. They’ve specifically said they wouldn’t mind if it was good singing, but … it’s not.

My thought is to approach it as a simple sound issue. Ask her to listen on headphones and keep the singing minimal out of respect for our new shopmate. The only thing that gives me pause is that it’s worship music and it may be seen as a bigger offense if I ask her to stop. Am I overthinking that part?

Yep, approach it as a sound issue. I think you’re feeling awkward about it because you’re focused on the fact that her singing is bad, but even if it were beautiful, a lot of people would find singing distracting while they were trying to focus. Now that you’re sharing space with another business and they’ve mentioned it, that’s the perfect framing to use — “Business X mentioned that hearing singing is distracting when they’re trying to focus. Can you use headphones and save the singing for home?”

That’s an entirely reasonable thing to say and it shouldn’t be perceived as having anything to do with the type of music. It’s generally understood that you can’t loudly sing in offices around people who are working, and especially that you need to be accommodating if you’re asked to stop because it’s distracting others.

2. How do I say “I’ll quit if you make me do this task”?

I work for a small company (sub-20 employees) and have been here for five years. Within the past year, I have been promoted, but my prior position has not been backfilled, so I am currently straddling two roles. Recently, my employer announced to the company (without asking me) that I would be taking on the job of creating an operations manual for the company. During this announcement, he quipped that it was obviously a task no one wanted to do. This is outside of either role I perform, outside my skillset, experience, or bandwidth.

How do I push back and inform him that I am unwilling to take on this task, and if my continued employment is contingent on this, I will resign? I believe that I am good at my job(s) and am a valuable asset to the company. I’m paid fairly and I am willing to continue my work here, but I am also burnt out enough that I am willing to walk away. Unfortunately, I live in a rural area where obtaining comparable employment will be difficult.

Are they planning to fill your old job? Have they cut down the workload enough that covering both is manageable, or do you need to address that too? If that needs to be addressed as well: “I’m stretched thin as it is. I’m covering two roles, which I was willing to do to help in a pinch, but it isn’t sustainable for me to do long-term. I definitely can’t take on a third project — particularly one unrelated to either of the two jobs I’m covering — and what I really need is a timeline for someone taking over the X job. Meanwhile, adding in an additional project on top of already covering two jobs isn’t possible.”

You don’t need to go straight to “I will quit over this.” Say it this way first and see what response you get. If you’re told to just suck it up and do it, at that point you could say, “I want to be up-front that this is so far afield from the work I came on to do, and frankly so far afield from what I’m up for doing, that it’s making me think about whether the role still makes sense for me — and I don’t want to blindside you with that without discussing it first.”

Only say this if you’re truly willing to leave over it, though. If you have a reasonable boss, I suspect you won’t need to, but you’d need to be prepared to. And if you don’t have a reasonable boss, be aware that even if they back off on this, it’s possible that explicitly drawing this line could sour the relationship — wrongly so, but it could. Which you might be completely fine with; I just want to make sure you’re not surprised by that if it happens. Of course, they should be worrying about souring their relationship with you, but they probably aren’t.

how to say “I’ll quit over this”

3. I heard alarming information from a coworker’s old manager — should I tell our boss?

I have a coworker, Juan, who works with my team on projects. He tends to overstep his role by showcasing his extensive experience in the industry beyond his actual role. He’s caused problems on projects, justifying it as helpfulness. He sometimes sides with clients at the expense of the team, and it’s unclear if it’s intentional or if he’s trying to make himself look good. So he is already kind of on thin ice, but his apparent experience in the field is helpful when assuming good faith.

The other day I found out through LinkedIn that he has worked with a close family friend (Emma) who is a regional manager in a leading company in our industry. I told him I know her, and he started going on about how well he knows her, how well they worked together years ago, how they’re still close, and again bragging about his experience from that time.

Then that night, I get a call from Emma to warn me about Juan. She’s a regional manager at an important company, and she spent a good 20 minutes telling me about how she’s his former boss, and had to fight internally to fire him. They keep a polite relationship because our industry is small, but they aren’t close like he implied. Emma advised me not to trust Juan and suggested a cautious approach, including documenting communications, keeping bosses informed, and watching my back because she’s known him to actively lie. She highlighted discrepancies in his resume and offered to review his LinkedIn profile to provide evidence of his questionable claims. She was very insistent and even seemed a little worried for me, even though I haven’t personally had problems with him.

While I have a good relationship with our boss, I’m unsure whether to inform our boss now, wait for Juan to face consequences naturally, or keep this information in case he causes problems in the future.

Assuming you know Emma to be trustworthy and to generally have good judgment, you should fill in your boss. The key is to do it in a matter-of-fact, fairly detached way. Your tone should be “here’s info that might be relevant so I’m passing it on; do with it what you will” — not attached to any one particular outcome, and definitely not “scandal! gossip! what are we going to do?!” Make it clear that you can’t vouch for the info personally, but that you’ve known Emma for a long time and she generally has good judgment.

If the facts of your letter were different — like if Juan had seemed like a perfectly fine coworker up until now, or if your boss were a massive problem themselves — my advice would be different. But a good relationship with your boss and a coworker who has already seemed like a problem? Be discreet about it, but have the conversation.

4. Ethics of interviewing when can’t I accept the job

I have an ethics question about job applications and unemployment insurance. I was laid off (along with 50% of the staff at my old job) between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I immediately started job hunting aggressively, but knowing typical hiring cycles in my industry and that this is usually a very quiet time of year for hiring, I also applied for unemployment. One of the requirements of receiving unemployment payments is that you must do three job search activities per week, whether that’s applications or attending a career fair or the like.

I was lucky enough to receive a new offer quickly, but because of funding cycles, my start date isn’t until late March. And between now and then, I still need to make rent and feed my kids, so I’m still doing my mandatory three applications a week to maintain UI benefits. But I feel awful submitting applications to jobs knowing that it’s vanishingly unlikely I’ll take any of them. I mean, maybe one will be an absolute rockstar of a job, but I’m pretty happy with the team, product, and compensation structure at the place I’ll be joining in March and it’s hard to imagine pulling out.

What do you think? Is it okay to continue sending out my resume? Should I be submitting applications only to jobs where I know I won’t be a top tier candidate, so I’m not messing with hiring managers’ hopes and dreams for filling their reqs? (Having been on the hiring side of the table recently, I know exactly how hard it is to hire people with my technical skills and how frustrating it can be to finally screen a candidate who checks all my boxes, only to have them withdraw from the hiring process.)

It’s okay to keep sending out your resume. You’re playing by the rules you’ve been given, and those rules require you to do that. And hiring managers should never assume any given candidate is a lock; after all, if they’re excited about a candidate, there’s a good chance other employers are excited about them too. Plus, there’s no guarantee they’d be able to agree on salary, and the person could end up not interested once they’ve learned more. On top of all that, anyone who hires knows that someone who looks great on paper might not turn out to be the right match once you learn more. So you don’t need to worry about disappointing hiring managers! They’ll be okay.

That said, there are some complicating factors because of your unemployment benefits. Typically on unemployment you’re not allowed to turn down a job offer except in fairly narrow circumstances (or rather, you can, but then your benefits can stop). So that might mean you’re better off applying for jobs where you’re not likely to end up in that position. At the same time, you wouldn’t want to be in a situation where the job that’s slated to start in March falls through (which isn’t likely! but it’s not a zero chance either) and you’ve forfeited a couple of months of genuine job-hunting as a result. So you’ve got to look at all of those factors and decide how to balance them.

5. Asking to work from another country

I work for the federal government in a position that requires moving to different countries outside of the U.S. every 2-3 years. My spouse is a software engineer who has worked remotely since 2017. We are heading to our next overseas location in June, and my spouse has been trying to find a new remote job for the past year with no luck. His current employer said months ago that they would check if they are okay with him working from the new country and then never brought it up again.

Every time he gets invited to interview with a new company, he tells them early on about the upcoming move and a small few have said “no problem” while the majority have said “no thanks,” and the process ended there. Their main concern is tax implications but since we are abroad on government orders, we don’t truly live there and are not subject to their taxes. We are Maryland residents and pay U.S. taxes as if we are in Maryland no matter where we are assigned in the world. However, the companies would rather not bother to deal with it or risk it and just pick someone without the complication.

As June is quickly approaching, we are getting more concerned. Should he push his current company for an answer so we know if his job has a hard end date in June or not? That feels like running the risk of them letting him go early, which is obviously not ideal.

Should he stop telling the prospective employers early in the process? Should he wait until he is hired and bring it up in May as if it’s something he just found out? Offer to do a trial period to prove to them that it won’t be an issue? We aren’t sure how to move forward at this point.

He should push his current company for an answer. It’s possible their silence means no, but it’s also possible it doesn’t.

That said, for most companies, letting someone work from another country where they don’t already have a business presence is a big deal — and usually prohibitively so for a new employee. It’s not just your taxes that are affected; it’s the business’s own taxes, plus government fees and filings too. They’d also have to monitor and comply with the employment laws of the new country, set up and pay into various new insurance policies, become licensed to do business there, navigate security issues, sometimes find an entirely new payroll company, and on and on. Those can be pretty significant legal and tax headaches, and most companies won’t be terribly motivated to take that on for a new hire. The exceptions are international companies that already have employees in that country, and those might be the smartest employers for him to look at. (But for those reasons, I really, really don’t recommend going through a whole hiring process and then springing it on the employer at the end. They’re likely to just say no and be very annoyed that he didn’t bother to mention it earlier.)

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